Within the CLARIFY project, a study was conducted to assess the medium and long-term effects of cancer treatment on the quality of life of patients, including the presence of sexual function alterations.
A total of 383 individuals with different types of tumors participated.
More than half of the included patients had breast cancer.
Among the findings, it was discovered that cancer survivor patients have a high prevalence of sexual dysfunction related to oncological treatment and the type of cancer they have.
26% of men and 76% of women reported overall dissatisfaction with their sexual function.
Women with breast cancer showed a high tendency to have severe sexual disorders.
Cancer treatments can deteriorate the quality of life and cause long-term and medium-term disorders in survivor patients, with sexual dysfunction being a frequent alteration. Based on this facts, the CLARIFY project (Cancer Long Survivor Artificial Intelligence Follow-Up) conducted an observational analytical study to evaluate sexual function alterations in a cohort of Spanish cancer survivor patients.
High Prevalence of Sexual Dysfunction in Cancer Patients
The research was initially conducted from October 2020 to May 2022. To specifically measure sexual function alterations, self-administered surveys were given to the patients. A total of 383 patients from the Puerta de Hierro University Hospital were included. The distribution of participants according to the type of cancer was as follows: 68.14% had breast cancer, 26.37% had lung cancer, and 5.50% had lymphoma. The average age of participants was 56.5 years.
Of the entire group, 19.58% were men and 80.42% were women. The analysis of the collected information revealed that 26% of men and 76% of women reported overall dissatisfaction with their sexual function. Depending on the type of tumor, 36% of early-stage breast cancer patients, 14% of men with lymphoma, and 9% of men with lung cancer reported overall dissatisfaction with their sexual function. Additionally, it was found that women with breast cancer were more likely to have severe sexual disorders, especially at the beginning of oncological treatment.
These findings confirmed that cancer patients have a high prevalence of sexual dysfunctions related to oncological treatment and the clinical characteristics of the tumour, with women being a highly affected population.
The results have been considered highly relevant by the participating researchers in order to raise awareness among the medical team involved in the care of cancer patients, as well as among cancer patients themselves and their families.
As a result, in 2021, six sexuality workshops were organized for cancer patients at the Puerta de Hierro Majadahonda Hospital in collaboration with GEPAC, the Spanish Group of Cancer Patients. Due to the success of these workshops, both institutions launched the Cancer Patient Education Program at the hospital. The program’s themes and content were based on the study’s results, as well as the needs expressed by the patients during the initial 6 workshops. The program consisted of 9 sessions covering various essential topics to improve the quality of life of cancer patients, including sexual function alterations.
Presentations at International Congresses
Furthermore, the study’s results have been highly valued by the scientific community. They were presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) on June 5 in Chicago, and, in September of the same year, the results of the follow-up update for lung cancer patients will also be presented at the World Conference on Lung Cancer (WCLC) of the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASCL) in Singapore.
In the realm of patients, the results have also had a significant impact, as evidenced by the review meeting of the study’s results with members of GRASP. GRASP is a patient-led organization that brings together scientists and patient advocates for personalized discussions on specific scientific studies. The goal of these discussion sessions is for cancer patients and their caregivers to share their experiences with scientists to promote the integration of patient needs in research. In the 3 sessions held, the results of the study presented at ASCO and its relevance for cancer survivor patients were discussed.
Given the findings of the initial research, and with the aim of better understanding the scope of the problem to implement structured interventions to improve the quality of life of patients and address inequities in oncological medical care, a new projec has been launchedt: the Ibero-American LUDICAS study. LUDICAS, led by the Spanish Lung Cancer Group (GECP), will define the characteristics of sexual dysfunction in lung cancer patients and is led by Dr. Aylen Vanessa Ospina as the principal investigator.
The decision to focus on lung cancer patients is due to the fact that this population has shown significant improvements in survival in recent years thanks to the availability of new oncological therapies. On the opther hand, there´s been a change in the lung cancer patient profile with a significant increase in the diagnosis of women and younger, non-smoking patients. Additionally, according to the results of the CLARIFY study, lung cancer patients also experience severe alterations in their sexual health, and the scientific literature lacks sufficient evidence on sexual dysfunction in this patient group. In general, data on sexual dysfunction in cancer patients mainly focuses on breast cancer, gynecological cancer, and prostate cancer patients, who usually receive hormonal treatments or have undergone mutilating oncological surgeries that directly affect the sexual and/or reproductive organs.
It is expected that by enlarging the number of lung cancer patients in the LUDICAS study, including populations from Spain and Latin American countries, a diverse sample of patients with clinical, cultural, sociodemographic, and healthcare access differences will allow for a more extensive analysis that will enrich the results. The project began enrolling patients in July 2023 and will conclude in December 2023 involving hospitals in Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Portugal, and Peru.
With the information collected in the LUDICAS study, combined with the previous results of the CLARIFY project, personalized recommendations for addressing and managing sexual dysfunction in patients with different types of cancer are expected to be generated. This may lead to modifications in current oncological follow-up guidelines and to improve educational strategies for managing cancer-related sexual dysfunction for patients and their families.